Grandparents Day: Not just another “Hallmark holiday”

Contrary to popular belief, Grandparents Day is not a commercial holiday created to generate greeting card sales. Rather, it is an official national holiday thanks to a federal proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. However, it unofficially began with Marian McQuade in 1956 when she learned that senior nursing home residents were not receiving visits from their families. She discovered that many were neglected and she set out to designate a day to honor and appreciate grandparents. 

Grandparents, whether natural or surrogate, add irreplaceable value to a child’s life and are deserving of honor and gratitude. “A grandparent is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher and a little bit best friend.” - Unknown

Many of us can point back to special memories we’ve shared with our own grandparents, but are we really aware of the value that a grandparent brings into a grandchild’s life? Grandparents provide emotional, social, educational and financial support that impacts not only the grandchild, but also the entire extended family due to the positive rippling effects of their contributions.

Grandparents:

  • Promote emotional support and stability. While parents are busy juggling work, family and lengthy commutes, grandparents typically have greater amounts of time and attention to invest in their grandchildren’s lives. Dr. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University states: “the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is second in emotional importance only to the relationship between parent and child.” In fact, a study of more than 1,500 children showed that those with a high level of grandparental involvement had fewer emotional and behavioral problems. Social psychologist, Susan Newman, wrote “grandparents are a security blanket. If there's somebody they trust and know is always on their side, that's a huge emotional plus for the child.”

  • Provide opportunities for a child’s educational development. Grandparents collectively spend $179 billion on their grandchildren each year, according to a recent AARP study. A significant portion of that amount is directed toward educational enrichment. As fine arts and extracurricular activities are being cut from schools, grandparents are contributing financially to supplement these important educational areas. Also, many grandparents see private and religious education as an investment in their grandchildren’s future and contribute financially towards tuition expenses. 

  • Protect against poor mental health. In the same vein, close grandchild-grandparent relationships act as a barrier against depression for both grandparent and grandchild, according to a 2016 study by Boston University. That close relationship even serves to increase positive mental health through shared, calming activities and conversations (Journal of the American Gerontological Society, 2014 study). 

  • Pass down wisdom to the younger generation. “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” Grandparents have a lifetime of success and failure to glean from. Their wisdom helps to shape the minds and future actions of young, impressionable lives. 

While Grandparents Day is set aside to honor those who’ve enriched our lives, we can appreciate the value they bring to our families each and every day.